Top 10 Posts of January, 2014

Miss a day or two?  Here are my top 10 posts of January, 2014.  Actually, I included an 11th post this month because it was such a close race and #11 was very popular too.

By the way, I had visitors for 91 countries in January.  I think that might be a record!  Thanks for stopping by!

  1. Diagnosing a Small Group Ministry (February, 2010)
  2. Reboot Your Small Group Ministry with My 5 Step Prescription (January, 2014)
  3.  The End in Mind for My Ideal Small Group (July, 2013)
  4. How to Launch Small Groups Using a Small Group Connection (May, 2008)
  5. Here are My Small Group Ministry Resolutions for 2014 (January, 2014) 
  6. 7 Practices for Developing and Discipling Your Coaches (December, 2013)
  7. How to Build an Annual GroupLife Calendar (April, 2010)
  8. Diagnosis: The Coaches in Your System (February, 2010)
  9. 6 Essential Components of a Small Group Launch (March, 2012)
  10. Steve Gladen on Saddleback’s Leadership Pathway (January, 2011)
  11. Evaluate Your Small Group Ministry with My Signature 10 Point Checklist (December, 2013)

What’s Better? Rows or Circles?

Turns out I can’t get enough of the idea that circles are better than rows…for most things.  It’s that important.  At least to me.

If you’ve been along for much of this journey, you’ve probably read many of these.  If you’re a newer member or infrequent attendee, you might just want to dive in and get the full treatment today!

Here are my top 10 posts on the idea that circles are better than rows:

  1. Disciples are rarely made in rows.
  2. Quotebook: Life-Change, Circles and Rows.
  3. Andy Stanley on Creating a Culture That’s All About Circles.
  4. The Primary Activity of the Early Church.
  5. Top 10 Signs Your Ministry Might Be Schizophrenic.
  6. An Inadequate Explanation for the 1st Century
  7. 10 Powerful Benefits of a Thriving Small Group Ministry
  8. 3 Prerequisite Convictions of Senior Pastors Who Experience Authentic Community
  9. How Do You Best Utilize Gifted Teachers in a Church OF Small Group?
  10. Top 10 Signs Your Small Group Ministry Needs a Reboot

Small Group Ministry Roadblock #5: A Leadership Development Disconnect

We’ve been taking a detailed look at what I believe are the top 5 small group ministry roadblocks; the things that stand in the way of a truly thriving small group ministry.  See also, 10 Powerful Benefits of a Thriving Small Group Ministry.

Today I want to spend some time on a very serious issue: a leadership development disconnect.

Roadblock #5: A Leadership Development Disconnect

There are several threads to this roadblock:

  • No leadership development plan
  • High capacity leaders aren’t identified
  • A lack of awareness of span of care issues

Issue #1: No leadership development plan: Whether your small group ministry system is designed to make it easy to step into leadership (like the HOST strategy) or you have a high bar of leadership that has front end hoops and training, without a leadership development plan, you’ll suffer a similar fate.  More than anything…the members of your groups won’t experience what you hope they will.

Solution: One of the most important ingredients in any small group ministry strategy is leadership development.  Ignoring the need for a leadership development pathway always sets up a bad outcome.  See also, Steve Gladen on Saddleback’s Leadership Development Pathway and Leader Qualification: Raising the Bar, Lowering the Bar or Open Bar?

Issue #2: High capacity leaders aren’t identified: Whether you acknowledge it or not, we’re not all created equally.  Instead, we really are created uniquely.  And one of the lessons of the Parable of the Talents is that there should be a connection between what we’re given to work with and our ability.  When there is a leadership development disconnect…high capacity leaders can’t really play a part according to their ability.

Solution: Recognize the uniquenesses of your leaders and recruit wisely.  Utilizing everyone according to their ability engages the highest capacity leaders in your congregation and produces fruitfulness and fulfillment systemwide.  See also, 5 Assumptions That Set Small Group Coaching Up to #FAIL and Diagnosis: The Coaches in Your System.

Issue #3: A lack of awareness of span of care issues: Carl George said it well: “Everyone needs to be cared for by someone, but nobody can really care for more than about 10 people.”  Derived from what Jethro taught Moses in Exodus 18, both care and leadership development suffer when this principle is violated.

Solution: The appropriate and skillful application of a coaching structure allows for sufficient care while engaging the abilities of higher capacity leaders.  A good coaching structure also enables the small group pastor to focus on identifying, recruiting and developing coaches.  See also, Span of Care and Building an Effective Coaching Structure.

Miss the beginning of the series?  You can read Roadblock #1: A Doubtful or Conflicted Senior Pastor right here.

What do you think?  Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

New from IVP: Living in Christ’s Presence featuring Dallas Willard and John Ortberg

living in christs presenceHad an opportunity today to review a powerful new resource from IVP and the Dallas Willard Center for Christian Spiritual Formation.  Living in Christ’s Presence: Final Words on Heaven and the Kingdom of God, a 7 session DVD filmed at a February, 2013 conference in Santa Barbara featuring Dallas Willard and John Ortberg, is a new must-have in my view.  Willard, visibly wrestling with the cancer that would ultimately take his life three months later, is mentally sharp and delivers some of the most powerful insights I’ve ever heard.

Each session is over an hour in length and along with the talks include a conversation between Willard and Ortberg.  The primary passion for the conference “was to provide an overview of Dallas’s writings and ministry–his most impassioned ideas.  The conference was build around the theme “Knowing Christ Today” and as a way to present the golden thread that runs through all of his primary

Along with the release of the DVD, a companion hardback with the same title was “created from the transcript” of the conference and includes the conversations between Willard and Ortberg.  During the third session I realized that I could follow along in the book making it much easier to note the sections that begged an underline or a note.

Living in Christ’s Presence is an amazing gift to the spiritual formation community.  Regardless of the role you play, this is a resource you’re going to want to have.  I know I’ll be watching the DVD multiple times, listening carefully for things I missed on the previous pass.  I loved it and I’m sure you will too!

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I may receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Four Countercultural Characteristics of Authentic Community

How do you know when something is authentic?  In the case of currency, the way a secret service agent is trained to detect counterfeit money is to spend a lot of time with the real thing.  Want to make sure you’re buying an authentic Rolex watch or designer handbag?  If the price is too good to be true (or you’re haggling with a road-side vendor), you’re probably about to purchase a knock-off.

Authentic hundred dollar bills, Rolex watches, and Michael Kors handbags have characteristics that make it easy to distinguish between the real thing and a counterfeit.

What about authentic community?  I like the four characteristics Bill Hybels shared years ago in a message at Willow Creek.  He said that the characteristics of authentic community are:

  • To know and be known: Way more than casual acquaintances or Facebook friends.  Deeper than the surface level, mask-wearing, master of disguise forms so common today.  To truly know and be truly known is to share life.  Can you imagine Peter’s desperate desire to be known when Jesus asked him a third time if he loved him?  “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you (John 21:17).”  Is anything more countercultural than to drop our mask and let our friends see who we really are?
  • To love and be loved: Beyond being liked or likable, to love and be loved is about following Jesus’ example.  Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13:34-35).”  He went on to say, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13).”  If it’s hard for many to allow anyone to truly love us, it seems near impossible for most of us to show love first.  If there has ever been a more countercultural action I don’t know what it is.
  • To serve and be served: To expect to be served is ordinary.  When we experience substandard service at a restaurant, we feel justified in leaving a smaller tip (or even omitting a tip!).  To adopt the posture of a servant?  Not easily done.  Jesus demonstrated this countercultural characteristic when He set aside what was truly His and took on the form of a servant (Philippians 2:5-8).  When He washed the disciples feet he said, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you (John 13:14-15).”
  • To celebrate and be celebrated:  How rare to be genuinely celebrated!  How uncharacteristic of the 21st century to celebrate the accomplishments of anyone else.  The apostle Paul instructed us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15.”  Who can truly do either?  Countercultural and yet at the heart of authentic community.

Four characteristics of authentic community.  Four countercultural characteristics.  Are you there?  Can you go there?  Wouldn’t it be sad if the tribe leading the way had never really experienced the life in authentic community that God designed for us?  See also, 5 Habits I’d Look for If I Was Hiring a Small Group Pastor and Note to Senior Pastors: Authentic Community Begins with You.

What do you think?  Have a question?  Want to argue? You can click here to jump into the conversation.

5 Habits I’d Look for If I Was Hiring a Small Group Pastor

I’ve been asked many times for a small group pastor job description, and that is certainly one way to look at the situation.  If I was a senior pastor though, I’d look at it from another angle.  I’d try to figure out the habits and patterns that make for the ideal candidate.

Here are the 5 habits I’d be looking for:

  • A long-term pattern of doing life in authentic community.  Remember, we can only expect the members of our groups to experience what their leaders have already experienced.  Doesn’t it follow that it’s crazy to expect members to experience things that aren’t modeled by the small group pastor?  When you find the right candidate they’ll have stories about previous groups, deep friendships in every port, and a desperate need for connection.  See also, 3 Prerequisite Convictions for Senior Pastors Who Experience Authentic Community.
  • A habit of identifying, recruiting and developing high capacity leaders of leaders.  Don’t miss this one!  Building a thriving small group ministry absolutely depends on the implementation and cultivation of a reasonable “span of care” and it’s ludicrous to expect to build a significant ministry without high capacity leaders of leaders.  The right candidate will be on the lookout for killers and fearlessly look for opportunities to ask them to join the life-change movement.  See also, 5 Assumptions that Set Small Group Coaching Up to #FAIL.
  • A pattern of making heroes of others.  A clear indication of the right candidate is someone who regularly brags on the amazing stories of small group leaders who go above and beyond what is expected.  A collector of stories, a great story-teller, quick to speak with pride about the life-changing accomplishments of others…is an essential attribute.  See also, Top 5 Keys to Starting New Groups. Lots of Groups.
  • A habit of focusing on the end in mind and commitment to stay the course.  A thriving small group ministry, a true church of groups, is built over the long haul.  It is the result of persistent determination and steadfast resolve.  See also, Wash, Rinse, Repeat and the Long Run and 10 Powerful Benefits of Building a Thriving Small Group Ministry.
  • A pattern of working well in the background, giving the senior pastor confidence in promoting grouplife.  This is an absolute essential.  The best candidates are nearly anonymous…except to group leaders, coaches and community leaders.  See also, Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups.

The bottom line?  The role of a small group pastor is not about being a figurehead or the face of small group ministry.  It’s not primarily about being an administrator or an organizer.  And the role of a small group pastor is definitely not about being a personal trainer for small group leaders.  What is it about?  The role of a small group pastor is about commitment to building an army of ordinary men and women committed to life-on-life ministry; and that is the commitment that transforms whole communities…one life at a time.

What do you think?  Have a question?  Want to argue? You can click here to jump into the conversation.

You’ll Get Through This: A New Church-Wide Campaign from Max Lucado

youll get through thisWorked my way through You’ll Get Through This, a new church-wide campaign from Max Lucado and Thomas Nelson.  You’ll Get Through This: Hope and Help for Your Turbulent Times is a six session church-wide campaign that features pastor and New York Times best-selling author, Max Lucado and is based on his 2013 book by the same title.

You’ll Get Through This is based on the biblical story of Joseph the favorite son of Jacob.  Knowing that, you can foresee where the campaign’s title comes in.  Joseph’s life, a series of tragic turns-of-events, is perfect for illustrating how God takes the threads of our lives’ troubles and uses them to form a tapestry of good (to use one of Lucado’s phrases).

Anchored by a six session DVD-driven small group study, the DVD features Lucado in his familiar mode as a story-teller.  With the video segments coming in at 22 to 25 minutes, they will hold the attention of most audiences, but they are right on the edge in length.

Each of the study guide sessions include a video teaching note section (designed to help participants capture the principles as Lucado presents them) as well as a straightforward Bible study that will guide groups through the six concepts that make up the series.  A between sessions section is included following each study to help group members personally apply what they’re learning in the study.  In addition, each of the study sessions includes a reference to a reading assignment from Lucado’s book.

Sermon outlines, a campaign starter guide, and templates for bulletin inserts, promotional posters and invite cards are all available for free download at

The campaign’s theme is timely and Lucado’s tone and manner will be received well by most groups.  This will be a very helpful campaign for some congregations.  If you’re looking for a study that will encourage people, you’ll want to take a look at You’ll Get Through This.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I may receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

My New Resolution: “Family Night” Is In My Future

In late 2010 I received a copy of Gabe Lyon’s The Next Christians in the mail.  It arrived unsolicited.  It even had a note from Gabe.  Very cool.  I read it very quickly.  Almost didn’t put it down.

I can tell you for sure that it helped raise a growing awareness of the arrival of a post-Christian era.  Along with a handful of other books and articles, The Next Christians opened my eyes to the reality that we’re not in Kansas anymore.  My reaction was equal parts disturbed and hopeful.  Disturbed at the damage the changes would bring.  Hopeful at the new opportunities to truly be salt and light in a post-Christian culture.

In a chapter near the end of the book,  In Community, Not Alone, Lyons describes the efforts by David and Kate to create a Thursday night scene in their Hollywood Hills home “where relationships could be cultivated.”  Good music.  Good food.  Good conversation.  They call it “family night.”

I loved this paragraph:

“For David and Kate, creating community among their collective of friends is a non-negotiable.  They’ve learned that society’s path tends to end in loneliness, emptiness, and ultimately disappointment.  They’ll do anything to fight that cultural tide–host the best parties, befriend new people, and find substantive friendships wherever they can.  Without this community, they would be compromising the core of their faith.  It’s that foundational to how they live.”

Re-reading The Next Christians this morning I came across this passage again.  And like the first time I read it…I knew intensely that we need to start our own.  Stay tuned.  Family night is in my future.

What do you think?  Have a question?  Want to argue? You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Small Group Ministry Roadblock #4: A Myopic Understanding of the Culture

I’ve been thinking lately about the biggest roadblocks to small group ministry; the things that stand in the way of a truly thriving small group ministry.  See also, 10 Powerful Benefits of a Thriving Small Group Ministry.

Here are what I believe are the top 5 roadblocks:

  1. A doubtful or conflicted senior pastor.
  2. A bloated belong and become menu.
  3. Indecision about the best next step.
  4. A myopic understanding of the culture.
  5. A leadership development disconnect

Roadblock #4: A Myopic Understanding of the Culture

Today I want to spend some time on Roadblock #4: A Myopic Understanding of the Culture.

Essentially, myopia is “a condition in which the visual images come to a focus in front of the retina of the eye resulting especially in defective vision of distant objects” or “a lack of foresight or discernment :  a narrow view of something.”

Myopia is not hard to diagnose.  The symptoms are easily spotted (headaches, eyestrain, squinting).  There are relatively easy solutions.  An opthamologist can prescribe glasses or contacts.  Today, lasik surgery can be performed to reshape the cornea.

Organizational Myopia

Organizational myopia is much more difficult to diagnose and treat.  The symptoms are easier spotted by an outsider with fresh eyes.  Symptoms are commonly misdiagnosed by insiders because nearsightedness developed slowly over time.  Vision that was sharp and vivid at one time gradually becomes blurred and colorless.

A Myopic Understanding of the Culture


  • Unaware of the culture’s biblical illiteracy, frequent references are made to obscure people, events, and principles.
  • Participation expectations are determined according to decades old pace of life realities.
  • Programs are designed with antiquated ideas about attention spans.
  • Lack of programming that meets the needs of single parents and blended families.
  • Maintaining and even reinforcing flagship programs and forms of an earlier era while younger generations opt out.
  • Regularly missing opportunities to leverage media and technology to connect.


First, an accurate and up-to-date diagnosis is in order.  Whether it is bringing in a pair of fresh eyes that can provide an honest and unbiased evaluation or soliciting input from still connected (or recently departed) members who are more in tune with the culture, you must have an accurate and up-to-date diagnosis.  See also, Diagnosis: Brutal Honesty about Your Present.

Second, conduct a frank and no-holds-barred self-assessment of ministry results.  Remember, “your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing (Andy Stanley).”  Your results are not a fluke or a coincidence.  If programs and ministries that once succeeded are no longer seeing the results you are accustomed to, it is due to a defective design.  See also, Ministry Design Determines Results.

Third, identify a church that does have a better understanding of the culture and start a conversation.  You don’t have to copy what they are doing.  You do have to develop a real-world understanding of the choices they’ve made and why they’ve made them.

What do you think?  Have a question?  Want to argue? You can click here to jump into the conversation.

The Evidence Is In: Rick Warren and Saddleback Are Committed to Small Groups

I’ve written many times about the need for senior pastors to champion small groups.  If you’ve been along for any length of time, you know it’s a frequent rant for me.  See also, Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups.

I really believe the #1 reason that Saddleback has so many small groups (and has connected so many people to a small group) is that Rick Warren is a relentless champion.  He never quits on the need for people to be in a small group.  He never delegates the responsibility to be the one to make the challenge.  See also, The Real Reason Saddleback Connects So Many in Small Groups.

Nearly 34 years since founding Saddleback Church he’s just taken advantage of another church-wide campaign to recruit another 2000 small group hosts to connect another huge wave of unconnected people.  Rick Warren is relentless because he knows the power of life-on-life.  He knows that life-change happens in circles…not rows.

Exhibit A: Here’s the text of Rick’s January 17th newsletter to Saddleback attendees:


This weekend I intoduce our revolutionary spiritual growth campaign for 2014. If you participate in a small group, it WILL transform your life for the better. If you don’t form a 50 Day group, I’m certain you’ll later regret missing out on what God intended to bless you with.


Anybody can be a HOST! We’ve proven this over 7,000 times! You just turn on the DVD player at your home or work.

Last weekend, nearly 2,000 brave people took a step of faith and volunteered to host a 50 Day group at work, or in a home. How about you?


The leatherette Life Journals, the seven DVD lessons, and all the other life-changing materials for your group.

As a small group HOST, you have two options for picking up your free kit:

  1. Tonight (Friday, January 17) spend one hour with me and all the other HOSTS during our ALL-CAMPUS HOST GATHERING at our Lake Forest Worship Center at 7:00 p.m.
  2. Or wait in line on the patio this weekend after each service.


I’m going to teach everyone how to use this tool for personal transformation.

The HOSTS always grow the most! You CAN do this! Step out in faith and watch God bless you. Bring a friend this weekend.

Exhibit B: Here’s the text of Saddleback’s January 9th e-newsletter: 

Next weekend, we will begin Pastor Rick’s new small group study, Transformed, and weekend series, 50 Days of Transformation. Learn how real change—lasting change—can actually happen in your life. There’s no better time to become a small group host. Signing up is easy! With you and just two additional people, your group is ready to go. Then join Pastor Rick on January 17 for a special small group host gathering to celebrate the start of the new series and pick up your group materials. Go online to learn more and sign up today!

Read More

You can learn a lot from what Rick has to say.  Is your senior pastor saying anything close to this about small groups?

What do you think?  Have a question?  Want to argue? You can click here to jump into the conversation.